Court: Court of Appeals of Michigan
Case Name: People v. Ortiz Nieves
Citation: 2019 Mich. App. LEXIS 7367
In a murder case, the defendant claims abuse of discretion. The motion focuses on the trial court admitting the testimony of the plaintiff’s (the state) child abuse expert witness. The defendant claims the expert witness used an unreliable expert methodology.
However, the court notes the expert was qualified to opine on the case and denies the defendant’s motion.
The court sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment for first-degree murder. Additionally, the court sentenced the defendant to 80 to 150 years imprisonment for first-degree child abuse. The case focused on the death of the defendant’s girlfriend’s minor son. After this, the defendant appealed the conviction. Among the motions related to the suit was a motion claiming abuse of discretion. This motion centered around the trial court’s part in admitting the state’s child abuse expert witness’s testimony.
The state hired a child abuse expert witness. The expert gave his opinion on general ideas and concepts related to victim behavior in cases of child abuse. This included common and appropriate signs of misconduct, such as slow detection, initial rejection, embracing the victim, and confidentiality. The expert relied on his extensive experience working in the field of child abuse victimology to support his opinions.
The Plaintiff’s Child Abuse Expert Witness
The expert was a co-founder and project director of a children’s trauma assessment program at a university. Furthermore, he had over 17 years of experience as a child welfare and security officer. The expert had also been a university lecturer for social work for 15 years. Plus, the child abuse expert witness had written more than 20 papers in medical publications. In addition, the expert had spoken at national and international seminars on the devastating effects of infant maltreatment. He has trained thousands of experts in child abuse and child trauma management.
In closing arguments, the defense counsel relied on the expert’s evidence. The counsel tried to convince jurors that the testimony of the victim’s three parents that the perpetrator was violent was untrue. The defendant claimed the basis of the expert’s opinion was ‘junk science’ and that he used an unreliable methodology.
The court noted that there was a strong precedent in Michigan courts for admitting testimonies of child abuse expert witnesses. Specifically, the courts tend to admit testimonies involving a general explanation of conditions and symptoms shown by victims after abuse incidents. Based on People v. Beckley, the court observed the expert’s knowledge and experience were built on the symptomatology of child abuse victimization. This knowledge and experience only helped to describe the possible physical, psychological, and emotional responses a child victim might experience.
The court also noted that the child abuse expert was suitably qualified to testify in the present case. Furthermore, the court noted the expert offered broad reasons to provide adequate background information on each individual behavior at question. This enabled the jury to refute some popular misconceptions commonly associated with the response shown.
The court found the trial court had not abused its discretion in admitting the testimony of the child abuse expert. The court denied the present motion.
Key Takeaways for Experts
It is not only important for expert witnesses to have the correct knowledge and experience for each case. Expert witnesses should also focus their testimony on the facts of a particular case. In this case, the expert gave background information on each individual involved in the case. Thus, the jury could understand the response of the victim in terms of abuse as well as other individuals involved. The expert’s knowledge and experience qualified as a reliable methodology. Knowledge and experience are big factors in determining expert admissibility. Your experience and background knowledge should be applied to the facts of the case to prove your argument.